Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny presents a conundrum for the popular franchise. Released in 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark was an intentional throwback to the matinee serials of the ‘30s and ‘40s, done with more filmmaking finesse. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade followed that approach. (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did, too, for a while, at least.) This is 2023, though. Are audiences still into that old-fashioned vibe when they have the high-tech thrills of Marvel superheroes and the physically impossible car stunts of the Fast & Furious saga? The makers of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny obviously believe not, leading them to make this fifth installment cutting-edge, despite a late-1960s setting. There’s a lot to enjoy, provided you’re willing to accept the hero going in a slightly different direction.
Harrison Ford is back as Indy, a weary, aging professor who seems almost as bored with his curriculum as his students are. A new adventure awaits when he’s visited by his goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Decades ago, he and her father Basil (Toby Jones) got their hands on half of Archimedes’ Dial, a gizmo invented by the famed mathematician. Helena wants to obtain it, as does Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a Nazi who hopes to use its alleged power to rewrite history in favor of Germany. Indy, of course, has no intention of letting either of them have it. Thus begins a globetrotting mission that finds an unsteady alliance forming between Indy and Helena as they attempt to outwit Voller.
What Dial of Destiny lacks is the breathless pace of Raiders. It’s longer, with talky sections detailing the history of Archimedes that help drive the plot. This is not to say there’s no action. On the contrary, there’s plenty, but a significant amount of it is done via CGI, allowing director James Mangold (Ford vs. Ferrari) to design elaborate sequences that include a fight atop a speeding locomotive and a horse chase in a subway tunnel. These moments are done well, yet don’t have the vintage feel we’ve come to expect from an Indiana Jones picture. Better are the ones like a race through the streets of Tangier, because they contain authentic stunts. Much of what happens here is more fantastical than outrunning a giant boulder or dodging a booby-trapped cave, meaning you don’t hold your breath the way you did in the first three entries. There’s excitement, just of an alternate nature.
The movie does other things incredibly well. Ford has a terrific take on the older Indy, suggesting that his life has become downbeat in the absence of the adventures he had as a younger man. Then, as the situation with Voller heats up, he springs back to his old self, coming off energized and revitalized. It’s a great note to hit, as we are presented with the natural evolution of a character we’ve loved for decades. Playing him the same would have been easy; showing how he’s changed in his later years proves to have an emotional quality that benefits the film.
Interactions with Helena add another fun angle. She wants to sell priceless relics, including the dial. He, of course, believes they belong in a museum. Humor and drama both arise from that ideological conflict. Ford and Waller-Bridge make the dynamic entertaining. Voller brings his own juice to the proceedings. Indy has long fought Nazis. Now he’s got to fight one who is still committed to the cause, years after WWII ended. Mads Mikkelsen perfectly infuses the villain with a sense of menace that guarantees you can’t wait to see Indy give him the comeuppance he deserves.
The boldest element in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is the third act, where the story ventures into territory the franchise hasn’t really touched upon before. Although it requires a massive suspension of disbelief, the risk was worth taking. Without giving anything away, the finale goes to a place that is quite logical for the character, granting him the opportunity to study history in a form that leaves him awed. This plot development wouldn’t work in an original. As part of the series’ end, however, it feels right, as though Indy has earned this reward.
Seeing Harrison Ford wearing a fedora and brandishing a whip one last time is satisfying. Many of us have literally grown up with Indy. Wrapping up a franchise can be difficult, given that the fans have expectations they want fulfilled. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny probably won’t please everyone. Nevertheless, the movie honors its hero by crafting a story that allows him to achieve new forms of gratification as both an explorer and a man.
out of four
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, language, and smoking. The running time is 2 hours and 34 minutes.